- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Those behind a ballot measure that would overhaul Oklahoma’s liquor laws by, among other things, allowing grocery stores and convenience stores to sell stronger beer and wine launched a publicity campaign Wednesday in an effort to build support before the November election.

Grocers, winery operators and convenience store operators were among those who kicked off the “Yes on 792” campaign during a trade show in Oklahoma City. They plan to run ads and to open campaign offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

“We believe it’s time for a change,” said Jeff Reasor, chairman and CEO of Reasor’s Foods, a grocery store chain in northeast Oklahoma. “It’s an opportunity to change and set some things right that have been archaic and arcane for some time.”

The proposal on the ballot in November would allow for numerous changes to Oklahoma’s alcohol laws, beginning in 2018, most notably allowing for the sale of strong, cold beer in grocery and convenience stores. Under current law, wine and beer in excess of 3.2 percent alcohol cannot be refrigerated and must be sold only in liquor stores, which are strictly regulated and closed after 9 p.m., on Sundays and on major holidays.

Oklahoma is one of only five states where so-called 3.2 beer is sold, and the state represents nearly 50 percent of all 3.2 beer sales, said Brett Robinson, president of Beer Distributors of Oklahoma. There would no longer be a need to sell 3.2 beer in Oklahoma if the measure is passed, Robinson said.



If approved by the voters, a companion bill that outlines numerous changes to the state’s liquor laws would take effect that would allow liquor stores to stay open until midnight and on major holidays, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Liquor still could be sold only at package stores, which also would be allowed to sell non-alcoholic items, like ice, coolers and non-alcoholic mixers.

Still, the measure is being fought by liquor store owners, who say it will result in the closure of hundreds of package stores across the state.

“We believe 792 will result in hundreds of locally owned package stores going out of business very quickly,” said Bryan Kerr, the owner of Moore Liquor and the president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, which represents about 680 package stores across the state.

Kerr said allowing liquor stores to stay open later is a “smoke screen” that won’t benefit package stores.

“From an economic standpoint, the extended hours are going to include extended labor and operating costs,” Kerr said. “The extra trickle of customers who might come in at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night does not represent additional revenue for us.”

Retail liquor stores have launched plans for a signature drive to get a competing proposal on the ballot. While similar to State Question 792, Kerr says it would only allow for strong beer and wine sales at grocery stores, not convenience stores, and would allow only a limited number of grocery stores to have licenses for the first ten years.

Kerr says the signature gathering effort will begin next week, although he acknowledges it will take a “Herculean effort” to get the proposal on the November ballot.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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